Keys To Youth Ministry Longevity: Meet Rick South

Do you ever wonder what it takes to hang in for the long haul in youth ministry? Do you ever wonder what it takes to stay at the same church and have a fulfilling ministry? Today we begin a short series focused on youth ministry longevity and how to make a lasting impact in the lives of students…

I have known Rick South for eight years. He is someone I greatly respect as a youth ministry veteran and mentor. I met him when I lived in West Michigan and was in a network of youth pastors that met every Thursday morning at a local breakfast hang out. A couple of weeks ago my family and I vacationed back in West Michigan and I got to have breakfast with Rick and bunch of youth pastors, (at this really cool place called ‘Toast and Jams’).

Phil: Rick, how long have you been in youth ministry and how long have you been at your current church?

Rick: Well Phil, I’ve been in youth ministry for the past 23 years and I have been privileged to serve at the same church the entire time.

Phil: Wow! Brilliant and incredible! What have two or three keys to staying in ministry so long at the same church?

Rick: I would say a lot of grace and willingness to adapt and change. I have served the same Senior Pastor for these 23 years and he has been my spiritual father and mentor. Because of some poor financial decisions, I could be out of the ministry, but my Pastor and congregation loved me through it. Perseverance and knowing God has placed me here have certainly been things I have had to remind myself of when things haven’t been the greatest…low staff, lack of attendance, etc.

Phil: Have you ever wanted to look elsewhere? What kept you at your church?

Rick: There have been times when I thought God may be leading me to leave, yet each time I believe God has shown me there are still things to accomplish here. I felt the Lord said to me the other day in prayer, “Rick, I will be with you wherever you go, and I’m trusting you to make the right decision with your future.” I wish I could explain the feeling of responsibility I felt that God believed in me to make the right decision. I have no desire to disappoint him or make a poor decision.

Phil: What hurdles should every youth worker expect to face in church work? How can they overcome these hurdles. (Give one or two examples, don’t feel you need to be highly detailed, just

Rick: Depending on your age and length of time in youth ministry…I believe everyone will face the stage of being a big brother, an uncle and a father/mother to their students. I have watched over the years as I have become a veteran (nice way of saying old, huh?) that my relationships have changed with the students and parents. I am a parent of three amazing teenagers! I love to have them as a sounding board to know what works, what doesn’t, and what never to do again. Hopefully everyone gets that chance!

Phil: What encouragement would you give to a youth worker who is just starting out in the first couple of years of ministry?

Rick: Pray, pray, pray. Ask God to send you leaders who can cover your areas of weakness…remember you’re not Superman or WonderWoman. Richard Crisco made a statement I love, “Love God, Love Students.” I think that sums up our calling. Always have a humble servant attitude. People love to work with someone they feel loves serving with them.

Phil: That is so key… People will give their time, talent and treasure to that kind of person! So, final question, what’s your favorite breakfast at Toast and Jams?

Rick: I’d have to say the muffin sandwich…it’s probably my go to every week, although I may get egg whites, wheat toast and turkey sausage or whole grain pancakes with sugar free syrup and turkey sausage.

If you have any questions for Rick, feel free to comment and we’ll have him get back at ya’!

Phil <><

6 Responses to Keys To Youth Ministry Longevity: Meet Rick South

  1. Jason August 7, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    What a good read! Refreshing and timely. I have been at the same church for seven years now, and am working hard at adapting. I started here with 4 students and now run 60+ on occasion, and took over 75 to Falls Creek. We are a very small church so my annual budget only covers the extra costs of camp every year. While this was easy when there were less than ten, it is exceedingly difficult with the numbers we have now. God has blessed this ministry and myself right along with it, but the struggles and trials have multiplied along with the numbers. It’s fantastic to know that there are other pastors who havent followed their pocketbooks or their quest for the next bigger, better deal. Praying for you and your ministry gentlemen. God bless.

  2. Jimmy Hudson August 7, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    My pastor once told me that ministry comes in seasons. If you don’t like one season just stick around long enough and the season will change. That one thought has gotten me through a lot of tough seasons and he was right every time.

  3. Jason Chenoweth August 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    Phil and Rick,

    Thanks for the honest answers man. I’m a couple of years behind you (21 years in voc. youth min, 11 at my current church). The pay off for staying in ministry, and even more for staying in ministry at one church is HUGE!! But it’s definitely a choice. I LOVE hearing you talk about how God says “Rick, I will be with you wherever you go, and I’m trusting you to make the right decision with your future.” I try to explain that point to other pastors who keep looking for that magic call to a ministry, and try to encourage them that God calls us to Him, not a job. I love your heart, and I’m honored to get to say I serve in the same vocation as you. Thanks guys!

  4. Phil Bell August 7, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    Great conversation here chaps!

    @Jason, although it’s bewildering sometimes, it’s good to know that when we follow God’s call, we should expect challenges. It sounds like you are heading in a great direction. Keep yourself surrounded by mentors and prayer warriors!

    @Jimmy, I love that picture. It’s so true!

    @Jason, it’s true that there is no magic formula, just a strong dependence on God and His calling on our lives. It’s important that us veterans keep communicating this reality to younger youth workers.

    Phil <

  5. Rick South August 7, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    Jason, Jimmy & Jason!

    Thanks so much for your replies! I am humbled and blessed to know that God has used this interview to encourage you! I really enjoyed your comments…I pray God continues to use you and bless you with incredible teams, students and funds to fulfill all God is calling you to do!


  6. Joseph Lalonde August 16, 2012 at 9:15 am #


    Great interview with Rick. I’ve served under him for the past 10 or years and had been a student of his many years before that.

    I can attest to the fact that Rick has been a leader that has been willing to shift gears when it’s needed. That’s probably one of the greatest things I’ve learned from him.

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